Friday, May 31, 2013

The Harper's Song

I do a lot of research for my worldbuilding. This usually has me delving into various world mythologies, making word lists from various languages, or trying desperately to understand various philosophical concepts. Quite often, I come across fascinating material. So I've decided to do occasional posts sharing some of the cool things I've learned that may or may not be used in my fantasy world and stories.

Today I'm sharing The Song of the Harper, taken from my copy of The Literature of Ancient Egypt, translation by Vincent A. Tobin.

The Song of the Harper
Fortunate is this prince,
For happy was his fate, and happy his ending.

One Generation passes away and the next remains,
Ever since the time of those of old.
The gods who existed before me rest (now) in their tombs,
And the blessed nobles also are buried in their tombs.
But as for these builders of tombs,
Their places(1) are no more.
What has become of them?

I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hardedef(2)
Whose maxims are repeated intact as proverbs.
But what of their places?
Their walls are in ruins, And their places are no more,
As if they had never existed.

There is no one who returns from beyond
That he may tell of their state,
That he may tell of their lot,
New Kingdom harp
That he may set our hearts at ease
Until we make our journey
To the place where they have gone.

So rejoice in your heart!
Absence of care is good for you;
Follow your heart as long as you live.
Put myrrh on your head,
Dress yourself in fine linen,
Anoint yourself with the exquisite oils
Which are only for the gods.

Let your pleasures increase,
And let not your heart grow weary.
Follow your heart and your happiness,
Conduct your affairs on earth as your heart dictates,
For that day of mourning will (surely) come for you.
The Weary-Hearted(3) does not hear their lamentations,
And their weeping does not rescue a man's heart from the grave.

Enjoy pleasant times,
And do not weary thereof.
Behold, it is not give to any man to take his belongings with him,
Behold, there is no one departed who will return again.

(1) "places" here refers to cult chapels for the dead.
(2) There is an existing fragment of an Instruction text of Hardedef, but there are no known writings of Imhotep in existence. Given Imhotep's reputation for wisdom, it makes one wonder what writings we may be missing due to the destructive force of time.
(3) "The Weary-Hearted"  is a title of he god Osiris.

I find The Song of the Harper fascinating. First, it appears to be but one example of a genre of writings called "Harper's Songs". This particular Song claims, in the text, to be from the tomb of an unidentified King Intef though it was found grouped with many "love songs" in Papyrus Harris 500. The Papyrus is from the New Kingdom, however the language of the Song indicates Middle Kingdom origins. Second, Harper's Songs seem to give a view of life and death in ancient Egypt somewhat divergent from the mainline religious beliefs. The sort of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die" theme wasn't common in Egyptian writings and may express a viewpoint more in line with the people rather than the religious leaders.

For my world, these songs have been partial inspiration for my minstrel/bard character Bulsara of Akhet. A highly skilled musician, a bit of a rebel, a lady's man, a fun guy who's going to get into quite a lot of trouble with the religious establishment, setting off a series of, I hope, interesting adventures that will be good short story fodder.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fairy Prince Blogfest: Prince Ashitaka

I've signed up today for Rachel Morgan's Fairy Prince blogfest (to celebrate the release of her new book, details below) because it gives me a good excuse to talk about one of my favorite characters: 

Get ready for a gratuitous amount of images.

This is Prince Ashitaka from the movie Princess Mononoke written and directed by my favorite modern storyteller, Hayao Miyazaki. Mononoke-hime could easily be considered a Japanese fairy tale with its proliferation of gods, demons, spirits, a Prince protagonist and the titular "princess".

Ashitaka is the last prince of the Emishi tribe. He is a warrior, wielding both sword and bow and arrows, though he abhors violence and uses it only to protect. In the story's beginning, Ashitaka fights against a corrupted boar demon that is attacking his village. He fights without fear, killing the boar demon but earning a cursed wound in the process.

Wise Woman: My prince, are you prepared to learn what fate the stones have foretold you?
Ashitaka: Yes, I was prepared the very moment I let my arrow fly.

Ashitaka is told that the infection in his arm will slowly spread through his body causing him a painful death. Due to the laws of the Emishi, Ashitaka must cut his hair and leave the village, henceforth considered dead to his people.

Wise Woman: You cannot alter your fate, my prince. However, you can rise to meet it, if you choose.
 Ashitaka's one hope is to travel west, to the source of the corruption that cause the demon to become consumed with anger and hate. The Wise Woman of his village tells him that it is his fate to go there with eyes "unclouded by hate" to see what he can see. Ashitaka bravely takes on this fate without any bitterness in his heart for what has happened to him.

In the west he becomes embroiled in the conflict between the humans of Iron Town who are consuming the resources of the land to make profitable iron to fuel human civilization and the spirits and gods of the nearby forest whose land is being encroached upon by the humans. He meets Princess Mononoke ("princess of the spirits"), a human girl who was raised by the wolf gods of the forest when her family was killed in war, a human who now hates humans. Another angle to the conflict arises when the Emperor sends a mercenary monk to the forest to cut off the head of the Forest Spirit whose dual nature of life and death can offer healing or destruction. But the emperor wants the head to give him immortality. Ashitaka takes no side in the fight, but tries to convince all the players that violence and anger and hatred cannot lead to anything good.

Ashitaka: Look, everyone! This is what hatred looks like! This is what it does when it catches hold of you! It’s eating me alive, and very soon now it will kill me! Fear and anger only make it grow faster!

And in the end it is only because of Ashitaka's devotion to life and to protecting that which is worth protecting that the world is not consumed by the Nightwalker, the destructive side of the Forest Spirit. Ashitaka is my favorite prince because of what he stands for: the courage to life a life of peace, the bravery to honor and love all life. He never sees anyone as the enemy, he knows they are all victims. He never sacrifices or falters in his convictions. He protects everyone and earns the right to live again.

San (Princess Mononoke): Even if all the trees grow back, it won't be his forest anymore. The Forest Spirit is dead.
Ashitaka: Never. He is life itself. He isn't dead, San. He is here with us now, telling us, it's time for both of us to live.

Also, his music is awesome:

It's release day for The Faerie Prince, the second novel in the Creepy Hollow series! Woohoo! If you're keen to read it, you can find it at the following places online:

Guardian trainee Violet Fairdale is just weeks away from one of the most important occasions of her life: graduation. After messing up big time by bringing a human into the fae realm, Vi needs to step up her game and forget about Nate if she hopes to graduate as the top guardian of her year. Everything would be fine if she wasn’t forced to partner with Ryn, her ex-friend, ex-enemy, current ‘sort of friend’. They might be trying to patch up their relationship, but does she really want to spend a week undercover with him for their final assignment? On top of that, the possibly insane Unseelie Prince is still on the loose, free to ‘collect’ as many specially talented faeries as he can find—and Vi is still at the top of his list. Add in faerie queens, enchanted storms, complicated not-just-friends feelings, and a murder within the Guild itself, and graduation is about to become the least of Vi’s problems.

In celebration, The Faerie Guardian is on sale for a limited time!


There will be a giveaway running from now until the end of the blog tour (Sun 9 June). A giveaway where FOUR people could win something! The prizes are a signed copy of The Faerie Prince (or The Faerie Guardian, should the winner prefer that), an Amazon gift card, a mini book pendant and necklace, and a Creepy Hollow pin badge. Check out the pic below!
Giveaway is open internationally

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Anime: The Book of Bantorra

Last night my husband and I finished watching the anime The Book of Bantorra. It was good. Really good. The first anime we've tried in a while that made me want to stay up way longer than I should to keep watching. It also made me question some things about my story preferences that I thought were true.

First, let me give you a quick summary of the show's premise. In Bantorra's universe when people die their bodies slowly turn into books (which look like vaguely book sized slabs of rock) which other people can touch to read and learn the deceased's life story. Bantorra Library is home of the Armed Librarians (how cool is that?) whose job is to collect, organize and protect the books. The Armed Librarians are in conflict with the Church of Drowning in God's Grace (also called the Shindeki Church) who believe that being human means that you have the right to seek happiness at all costs. The top ranks of the Church are the True Men, who use others to gain happiness and thus create the most beautiful books of their lives that they can. Then there are the Mock Men who serve the True Men. Lowest of all are the Meats who the True Men have brainwashed to forget their humanity. Meats are used as cannon fodder and guinea pigs in various experiments the Church carries out.

To say more would be to give away too much. The anime is full of intrigue, of world-changing secrets and interesting plot twists. It's well worth the watch. So what assumptions did it call into question?

1. I thought I hated character death.

Of course I don't mean ALL character death. Sometimes it's appropriate or even necessary to the story. But I have firmly hated and condemned the kind of character death that G.R.R. Martin engages in: where characters seem to die right and left and the only purpose of it seems to be either a glorification of violence or "Ha! You thought you could root for him? You never know whose going to die or when in this book! Don't get too comfortable, reader. Muahahahahaha!" OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but I think you know what I mean.

Many characters die in Bantorra and only some of them are bad guys. The first episode introduces a group of Armed Librarians. As typical in anime they are all given a unique look and unique abilities and unique personalities. They are presented as whole characters. Only a few of them will survive to the end. And while it hurt each time one of them died, somehow it fit into the mood and theme and direction of the story perfectly. And perhaps this is the key to why it worked for me: (semi spoiler) the climax involves a two layered fight involving the still surviving characters and all the characters that had died thus far all working together in their respective realms to win the conflict. It was awesome.

Three of these characters die.

 So while many of the deaths seem pointless at the time, ultimately they have meaning.

2. I thought I hated unsympathetic, morally questionable main characters.

In truth, there's not really one main character in The Book of Bantorra. But Hamyuts Meseta, the acting director of Bantorra Library, is certainly one of the most important characters. (She's the one in the image above with the ridiculous cleavage.) She's also a terrible, terrible person.

In the very first episode she uses her power to blow up a ship despite all of the people that are still on it including her own Armed Librarians. The rest of the series establishes that she is ruthless, bloodthirsty and extremely deadly. She is clearly keeping some ominous secrets and no one really knows who she is or what her goals are. And at first I didn't like her. But then...

One of the things I love about anime is how EVERY SINGLE character is far deeper and more complex than they appear in the beginning. But animes tend to take their time about revealing the full picture of their characters. Each new storyline will deepen your knowledge of the characters. It's like each character is a puzzle. In the beginning of the series the frame of the puzzle is intact and slowly new pieces are added with each arc the character goes through until you can finally see the whole picture. It's fantastic. Hamyuts is no exception.

One of the other characters, Minth, has an ability called Sacred Eyes which allows him to look into people's souls. He once used it on Hamyuts. He expected, he says, to see nothing but evil and villainy in her soul, but was surprised. He finds that her main trait is self-loathing, her thoughts are void, and she wishes for love.

By the end of the series I could believe that, even though in the beginning she had seemed a villain. Slowly, gradually, so that you barely notice it consciously, she is deepened. And in the end it is possible to sympathize with her and even root for her to win. It is expertly done.

3. I thought I wanted romances to have a happy ending.

Tragic romances are all well and good when you are young. But being a wife and a mother has made me prefer seeing a good happy ending for lovers. It's gotten to the point where I'm likely to shun a story if I think it's going to be too heartbreaking. And yet...

There are several romantic or semi-romantic couples in The Book of Bantorra. The only couple that has something like a happy ending are never at any point physically together (they live hundreds of years apart). Three couples are separated by death. Two of those three never consummated their relationship. It was always on the brink of something more. All four of these relationships were beautiful, each in different ways. And they were heartbreaking and I loved them.

I would totally ship Noloty and Enlike. 

So what's the moral here? I think it's that there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to story telling. Anything can work. It just depends on how well you implement it. But you can't know how well you might or might not be able to carry out a particular technique or trope until you try it. At that point, you should let the readers decide whether it's good or bad.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fumbled it Again

I fumbled the A to Z Challenge. Again.

But rather than asking myself why I even bother to jump into things that I obviously can't handle I'm going to stick to telling myself, "It's better to have strived and failed than never to have striven at all."

Still, I think I've learned something important about myself. (Something more than "Oh God, remind me never to try the A to Z again.") Or at least finally managed to get it through my thick skull:

I can't handle hard deadlines or schedules.

Now, let me clarify. I've tried deadlines and schedules. I've tried them in abundance. I've tried participating in the excellent A Round of Words in 80 Days, which is about as lenient a writing challenge as you can get, and I even signed up for NaNoWriMo last year, a much stricter challenge, and gave that a shot. I've tried setting my own goals somewhere in between. I've tried telling myself "just write something, anything, even if it's only one sentence of fiction, everyday." I've tried various daily word count goals. I've tried every type of goal I can think of.

But here's the thing... (and when you read that, I want you to hear it in the voice of Tony Shalhoub as Monk, because I always do.) Here's the thing... I become hopelessly anxious at the thought of deadlines. And it doesn't matter what word you use. Call it a goal, call it a challenge, call it whatever you want. My inner demons aren't fooled. If I'm supposed to accomplish a specific task by a specific time/date then I can't handle it.

Trivia: in my senior year of high school I was supposed to write a 10 page paper for my English class. I couldn't handle the deadline for this paper. It passed by and I hadn't even read the book I was supposed to be analyzing. (I never actually did read the whole thing. It was an awful book, but there was a list of books we were supposed to choose from and I was sick that day so when I came back to school I had to choose from the dregs.) Weeks passed. My teacher finally cornered me and made it clear that my grade would be shot if I didn't turn in that paper. Filled with anxiety, I forced myself to write 10 pages of, what I thought of as, drivel. (Have I mentioned that I hate literary criticism? Which is basically what we were supposed to do.) Well, I must have simulated what my teacher wanted well enough because despite taking off 20 points for being late, I scraped a grade of 77.

What's the point of that story? There's a part of me that knows perfectly well that I can do the tasks that are set for me. I'm a smart, competent person and even a decent writer and part of me knows it. The other part is thoroughly convinced that I'm a failure at everything I do and that I can't write worth crap. The second part of me is usually in charge. And fighting against that part of me, even thinking about going against it, causes terrible anxiety EVEN WHEN I KNOW, LOGICALLY, THAT THAT PART OF ME IS WRONG. I've talked a bit about my anxiety before. Anxiety is painful in a very physical as well as mental way and it's exhausting to struggle with it. And people, like me, with real anxiety problems (I take medication, but it only helps so much) have no control over how our minds and bodies react to it.

I can't handle deadlines. They give me panic attacks. They paralyze my mind and body.

So what can I do?

I think the key to why deadlines give me such anxiety is that they are in the future. During all the time between NOW and THEN my mind has ample opportunity to play on my insecurities. (And it has a rip roaring time, let me tell you.) I usually start out well. But as time passes everything becomes more and more difficult for me to face. Perhaps, then, I should eliminate that time factor. But how?

I'm also the type of person who needs to feel prepared when I sit down to write. Otherwise uncertainty creeps in and that leads to more anxiety. I need to have my research done, my notes to hand, and at least a rough outline of what I want to accomplish with my story in mind. Right now I don't feel prepared. So I'm going to focus on preparation, because the thought of research and outlining doesn't freak me out like the thought of actually writing the story does. And I think if I'm better prepared then the thought of writing the story will freak me out less.

So my goal is to finish all of my research and worldbuilding notes and outlines by the end of the summer. (By that I mean the end of summer vacation.) Right now I've got 5 kids, 2 of which are in school. In September my middle child will be starting kindergarten. That will mean only the two little ones home and they both take good naps during the day. So if I can manage to finish everything I need to feel prepared over the summer, I'm going to try to discipline myself to sit down and write during nap time. I'm not going to set wordcount goals or anything, I'm not event going to set myself the goal of writing everyday. I'm just going to try to set up a correlation in my mind: nap time>write. I won't guilt myself if I miss a day or if I can only get a sentence down before the boys wake up. I will try to empty my mind of all pressures associated with writing. It will simply be nap time>write.

I will just have to wait and see whether this method will be helpful to me. Every writer needs to find their own method, their own positive habits, what works for them. I'm still searching. Perhaps once I have begun to find it I will feel that I can begin to call myself a real writer. Stay tuned.